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The StartX Files: Between the Sheets With Star Calc
Digressing Into Font Land
December 14, 2001
During the course of writing this week's column, I found myself looking at the font presentation in KDE 2.2.1 and thinking: "yes, these are anti-aliased, but by golly is the kerning completely screwed on this thing."
Such thoughts come to me often, and like the knee-jerk reactionary that I am, I did not spend a moment considering when I would eventually get around to fixing this problem. I would work on it right there and then.
So far, I had been very pleased with how fonts looked in 2.2.1 running in MandrakeLinux 8.1. Mandrake's DrakFont tool was particularly handy in pulling over a bunch of TrueType fonts from my Windows machine and making them available for all of my KDE apps. But, as I mentioned, the kerning of many of these fonts was a bit off, to say the least.
I checked the KDE site, and sure enough, there was at least one bug report about the problem. And the bug report had been closed recently, which gave me hope that a fix might be present in the latest version of KDE 2.2.2. So, with cable modem in hand, I plucked down the relevant RPM files from the KDE site and upgraded the environment.
Unfortunately, things are pretty much the same with the on-screen display. Oddly, the kerning problem only seems to happen in certain places: like the Console if I've set the font for something non-standard, or within OpenOffice--which is what precipitated this quest in the first place.
OpenOffice does have a font management tool of a sort as well. spadmin, which can be found in the /programs directory of the OpenOffice folder, is primarily used to configure printers for use with the OpenOffice suite. But it also has a font import feature that can quickly enhance the look of your OpenOffice documents, especially if you plan to pull Excel documents in to edit. Just point the Add Fonts tool at the appropriate font directory and they'll be available for documents and, interestingly, controls for OpenOffice. In fact, after I pulled in my TrueType fonts, the menu and dialog box fonts for the entire suite looked 100 percent better. Fonts within the documents did, too, though there was that persistent kerning problem.
Nor was this kerning problem native to just KDE. Opening the same files in GNOME 1.4 produced the exact same results: smooth-looking fonts on the controls, but significant font spacing problems in the documents themselves.
I am harping on fonts a bit before I start my review of Calc, OpenOffice's spreadsheet component, for one very good reason. Given the range of tools found within Calc, I would contend that this application is not a worthy second-best Linux substitute for Excel--Excel would actually be a good second-string for Calc. Indeed, Calc is stable and feature rich enough to easily surpass most of the big spreadsheet apps, such as Quattro Pro and Excel.
Like many other Linux applications before it, though, Calc's acceptability by the at-large user community will be hampered by the very significant formatting problems Calc has with fonts, font spacing, and general layout.